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The Mini Medical School with Dr. Melissa Ing

Dr. Melissa Ing, Associate professor in the Department of Comprehensive Care at Tufts University, joined Dr. John O'Keefe to speak about Mini Medical School. The initiative was developed by Dr. Ing in collaboration with the Boston Museum of Science to encourage youth to consider medicine and dentistry in their future career goals, through combining community service with service-learning initiative for students; and supporting the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) education coalition.  

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Read/download the transcript of the conversation (PDF)

Mini Medical School (MMS) is an innovative program that I have designed since 2015 to encourage middle school children to pursue possible STEM careers in the health sciences, especially with a focus on dentistry and medicine. Besides giving them an overview of dentistry and medicine, MMS also gives kids a sampling of jobs in nursing, physical therapy, emergency medical technician, and biomedical research.  MMS is delivered as a summer program to kids aged 9-14 at Boston’s Museum of Science.

Whereas elementary-aged children tend to dream about future careers based on fantasy, middle school children begin to think about future careers based on a developing awareness of their abilities and interests1. Studies have shown that when middle school students are presented with interactive, fun, and creative opportunities to explore their passions, they achieve greater success in their future careers1.

The program was expanded two years ago, bringing it to the relatively isolated community of Nantucket during the month of July as a two-day summer service learning “camp”. Of note, the island possesses a diverse year-round population that includes Spanish, Portuguese, Bulgarian, Thai, Jamaican, Russian, and French immigrants2. Being 30 miles out to sea, Nantucket’s children do not have easy access to a world-class science museum.

Understanding Nantucket’s geographical remoteness, I sought to reinforce and teach interprofessional health care relationships between medicine, dentistry, nursing, and physical therapy. Interprofessional collaborative health practices have been demonstrated to potentially increase access to care as well as the quality of care4.

Mini Medical School allows children in these island communities to receive an opportunity equal to that of youth residing in metropolitan areas. Without a doubt, Mini Medical School can have lasting impact on the future of youth in America, allowing the next generation to be globally competitive in the workforce.

Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) designates Nantucket Island and Martha’s Vineyard both as Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSAs), which are defined as: “areas that have shortages of primary medical care, and/or dental or mental health providers.” Furthermore, they “may be urban or rural areas, population groups or medical or other public facilities.”4 According to 2014 HRSA statistics, Martha’s Vineyard, an island approximately three times the size of Nantucket, has regions and towns where there are no practicing health care providers5. It is therefore not uncommon for residents of Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard to travel to the mainland for healthcare.  However, due to the lack of accessibility to the mainland, with sometimes inclement weather or rough seas, Nantucket Hospital has relied on “telemedicine” for many years6. “Telemedicine” allows the island hospital staff to seamlessly communicate with Boston doctors, allowing them to diagnose and provide treatment options using high definition imaging. For more serious conditions, patients are even helicoptered to Massachusetts General Hospital7. Approximately 300 patients per year are transported by helicopter to Massachusetts General Hospital, and during the summer months an average of one patient per day is transported off Nantucket by “Boston MedFlight”7.

Nantucket has a newly expanded hospital accompanied by growing healthcare workforce needs. Therefore, both island communities would strongly embrace the training of its youngest residents towards healthcare professions who may then return to provide for their residents’ own health8.

Mini Medical School allows for the earliest recruitment of dental and medical school candidates, as it opens up children’s horizons and introduces the health sciences to them at a young age. The program can introduce a long-term passion for a career in the health sciences. By branching into rural or more remote municipalities, Mini Medical School can potentially increase the pool of motivated dental and medical school applicants for institutions to choose from.

Faculty and students from University of Connecticut School Dental Medicine and New York University School of Dentistry were invited to collaborate with me in MMS programs at the Museum of Science and on Nantucket Island. Faculty and dental students take turns leading different segments of the MMS program. This also gives maturing dentists-in-training the opportunity to educate the public.

Within a risk-free classroom laboratory environment real-life medical problem based “modules” in the form of self-made videos and Power Points are given to the children. This stimulates the kids to reflect, critically think, and apply information.  Examples of these modules include the following: The class is introduced to a patient who has a heart attack at Logan International Airport; a nearby Good Samaritan traveler, while attempting assistance, trips over a piece of luggage and breaks his arm. The modules are designed to be engaging and authentic representations of what a day in the life is like for a physician, dentist, nurse, physical therapist, EMT, or researcher.

The hands on activities include teaching: head and neck anatomy, dental anatomy, and cariology, how bite marks are used to solve crime scenes, how to suture using a banana as a prop, how to cast a broken arm, CPR, how to measure blood pressure, how to build the components of a blood vessel, and introduction to tick borne diseases.

To continuously stimulate the students, sets of games and contests are also used as part of their learning. For example, we ask them how many teeth different animals have, so that they may understand that certain animals with very large jaws, such as alligators, will have many more teeth. Some interactive activities are team-based to encourage groups of students to critically solve problems together while other activities, such as suturing on a banana, are challenged individually.

After our pilot program in 2017, Nantucket Island Public Schools was awarded an Innovations Pathway Grant from Governor Charlie Baker for us to conduct Mini Medical School in the summer of 2018. Currently, I am applying for my own grant to bring Mini Medical School to both Nantucket Island and Martha’s Vineyard and to expand the program to include high school students as well as the aforementioned middle school students. Studies show that pre-high school and high school interactive and integrative exposure to STEM subjects demonstrates greater career success9,10.

The goal to is to not only collaborate with other dental schools, our dental faculty and students, but to ensure that MMS can be a sustainable program. We want to capacitate health care workers and teachers in these isolated communities so that once Mini Medical School is completed, their islands are trained to provide similar Mini Medical activities to their island children at an ongoing year- round basis. In previous Mini Medical School programs an island physician participated in “Tick Talk” and the curriculum director acted out in the forensics skit. This will encourage kids to choose high school science courses and hopefully encourage health sciences careers.

By inviting different dental schools to participate and demonstrating my Mini Medical School modules and pedagogy I am able to share concepts and expand the success of MMS into other areas. Ideally, I would love to see Mini Medical School operate at different science museums such as at New York’s Museum of Natural History and Toronto’s Royal Ontario Museum as well continuing to try and conduct the program within rural municipalities.

As dentists we should remain life-long learners and always be curious thinkers. What better way to create the littlest life-long learners and curious dental and medical applicants than by encouraging them with programs like Mini Medical School? I can most definitely say that at the end of each of our programs we have kids that are completely excited to become doctors and that alone makes Mini Medical School a success.

  1. Cohen, A. 5 Reasons why STEM Career Training should start in Middle School. EverFi. April 2018.
  2. https://everfi.com/insights/blog/5-reasons-stem-career-training-start-middle-school/
  3. Graziadei, J. United nations of Nantucket. N Magazine. 2016. http://n-magazine.com/united-nations-nantucket/
  4. https://www.simulationiq/com/blog/content/improving-patient-care-interprofessional-collaboration-0
  5. https://bhw.hrsa.gov/shortage.designation.hpsas
  6. Data Brief: Health Professions Data Series-Physicians 2014 Report by Massachusetts Department of Public Health
  7. Percelay, B. New Hospital Delivers. N Magazine.  April 2019. http://n-magazine.com/new-hospital-delivers/
  8. Cocuzzo, R. Come Heli or High Water  N Magazine.  June 2018. http://n-magazine.com/come-heli-or-high-water/
  9. Kowarski, I. Consider a Career in Rural Medicine. U. S. News Education. 2017. https://www.usnews.com/edcation/best-graduate-schools/top-medical-schools/articles/2017-02-27/consider-a-career-in-rural-medicine
  10. Bottia, M. Boosting the numbers of STEM majors?  The role of high schools with a STEM Program.  Science Education Policy.  November, 2017.
  11. Becker, K. et al. Effects of Integrative approaches among science, technology, engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) subjects on students’ learning: A preliminary meta-analysis.  Journal of STEM Education. Volume 12.  Issues 5 and 6.  July-September 2011.

Dr. Ing is a native Canadian. She received her Bachelors of Science (Biology) from the University of Western Ontario, and her Doctor of Dental Medicine degree from Tufts University. While having her own dental practice in Rocky Hill, Connecticut she also worked at the University of Connecticut School of Dental Medicine in Farmington, Connecticut. She taught restorative dentistry, was Team Leader, and eventually became Director of their Predoctoral Clinics. Dr. Ing is currently teaching Operative Dentistry at Tufts as an associate professor. She conducts research in the areas of infection control, education, celiac disease, and public health and is principal investigator of over 18 projects. Dr. Ing’s textbook chapter on infection control and ergonomics was released in February 2019. Dr. Ing is a passionate advocate of STEM education and enjoys working on her signature program for middle school children, “Mini Medical School”. Dr. Ing is fortunate to have had strong health professional role models within her family, which steered her towards dentistry and dental education. Her surgeon father used to teach her how to suture on the Thanksgiving turkey! Realizing not every child has these role models or opportunities gave Dr. Ing the incentive to create the Mini Medical School program.

Dr. Ing is the recipient of the 2015 national Colgate-Palmolive ADEA Excellence in Teaching Award and is the recipient of several Kaiser-Permanente teaching awards from UConn. She is a member of the Commission on Dental Competency Assessments, the Organization for Safety and Asepsis Procedures, and American Women in Science.

Oasis Moment/Preview (1.42″)

Full Conversation (6.54″)


  1. Marc October 3, 2019

    Very nice, Melissa! Getting kids involved with STEM curriculum and careers is as noble a calling as I can think of.

    Keep on!

  2. Irida October 4, 2019

    Great work Dr. Ing! Always zealous to teach!

  3. Nancy Chan October 4, 2019

    Wish they had this when I was in middle school.
    What better way to stimulate young minds than allowing them to experience it first hand.
    Leave it to Dr. Ing to help create opportunities for our future generations and at the same time address and improve the healthcare shortage in isolated, remote areas.

  4. Anonymous October 5, 2019

    Excellent program. Planting the seeds of possibilities to middle students is the perfect time.

  5. Brian Curtis October 5, 2019

    Excellent program Melissa. Planting the seeds of possibilities to middle school students is a perfect time.

  6. Brian October 5, 2019

    This is great!!

  7. Paul October 5, 2019

    Awesome work Dr Ing. You’re an inspiration to all the young adults by expanding their knowledge in the medical and dental fields. I’m sure you’ve started many on the path to becoming future doctors. Well done!

  8. Peter October 6, 2019

    Brilliant, Dr. Ing!

  9. Sabina October 6, 2019

    Excellent concept

  10. Carl October 6, 2019

    As a former teacher, I find this quite inspiring. Keep it up

  11. Colin K October 6, 2019

    What a great video! Very well put together!

  12. Irene October 7, 2019

    Looks fun and inspiring. I love the banana suturing in the video!

  13. Chandra Iyer October 7, 2019

    Brilliant and inspiring, Dr. Ing! A remarkable feat getting the kids involved with STEM and paving a way for their possible future in it. I wish I had the mini med when I was a kid!! Keep up the good work, Dr. Ing!

  14. Kerith Rankin October 7, 2019

    This is such an amazing program! Great Job Dr. Ing, you are doing fabulous work for those kids.

  15. Mary October 7, 2019

    A great way to positively impact young minds! Great work, Dr.Ing!

  16. Stephanie Sakai October 7, 2019

    I have been involved with STEM programs, the last through Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and this by far is the most comprehensive and enriching program I have seen! Thank you to Dr. Ing for taking her experience and love for the dental and medical fields to encourage the young children to enter these fields!

  17. Paul October 8, 2019

    Tremendously inspiring!! Good on you for creating a hands-on program that’ll motivate children towards STEM careers. Someday, one of these youngsters will be asked what motivated them and undoubtedly, they will mention Dr. Ing and Mini Medical School!!

  18. David October 8, 2019

    Dr. Ing your program can make a big difference in a child’s formative years. This program can plant the seed of knowledge that grows in future. The Health care profession is a very important part out our society and every child can benefit from learning the basics. The program is well thought out and professionally executed. Good work. Keep cultivating the future.

  19. Alysa October 8, 2019

    Fun! The scenarios really bring the possibilities of a career in STEM to life. Starting early with application to real life situation is perfect. I wish they had a program like this when I was in school.

  20. Eduardo J Olegario October 11, 2019

    Dr. Ing is a groundbreaking dental phenomenon! I love that you are bringing the medical experience to new young minds!

  21. David Frantz October 11, 2019

    What an inspirational program! This is how young people get inspired to find the careers that help them reach their true potential – the kind of hands-on education that can influence a lifetime as it builds the next generation of practitioners. Amazing work, Dr. Ing!

  22. David October 11, 2019

    Dr. Ing is an outstanding and passionate educator. These youths are indeed very fortunate to have someone of her talent, initiative and commitment dedicate herself to their betterment. She has and will continue to make a lasting impact on their lives.

  23. Matt Bagnall October 19, 2019

    Wonderful! This is priceless experience that will stay with these kids and motivate them!

  24. Gary October 23, 2019

    Great work on this impactful program! Mini-Med engages young minds by increasing access to resources and health literacy outcomes of the community.

  25. Isabela November 4, 2019

    Such a great event that inspires the young, brilliant minds of America!

  26. Gyve Hamidi July 19, 2020

    A wonderful idea and admirable undertaking. Excellent work Melissa!


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